The D.C. Council will get final say over a disputed piece of open land at the site of the old convention center, clearing the way to start a broader redevelopment of the property at New York Avenue and 11th Street NW.
The deal, which is expected to be approved by the council today, settles a standing dispute with Mayor Anthony Williams over who would control what D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) described yesterday as "the most valuable piece of land in the downtown."
Most of the 10-acre parcel is slated for redevelopment as condominiums, offices and retail space. But the council and Williams have clashed over where to put a proposed 1,500-room hotel needed to support the new convention center at Mount Vernon Square.
Cropp wants to put the hotel on the old convention center site, arguing that the city already owns the land and could thus save on the hotel's development costs; Williams thinks the hotel should be built two blocks away at Ninth Street and Massachusetts Avenue NW, with a portion of the land at the old convention center set aside for a library or other public use.
Under the compromise scheduled to be debated today, 120,000 square feet of the old convention center site will be held aside for further discussion while the rest of the development proceeds. With Williams now agreeing to let the council decide on that piece of land, Cropp said she will move forward today with approval of the broader redevelopment.
Approval has been on hold for a year as city officials debated the hotel's location. Until now "the mayor could change the deal and do whatever he wanted," Cropp said. "I wanted to make it clear that the council could decide what goes on that site.
"It's the most valuable piece of land in the downtown," she said. "It's as big a deal as the baseball stadium."
Some city leaders had pushed for a music museum at the site, but Cropp said that deal is "totally off the table."
"I and others didn't think the music museum was the best use of public land for such a valuable piece of land and we told the mayor that," Cropp said. The music museum was supported by the Federal City Council, a business and civic group that focuses on downtown development. "We need to put something on that land that will generate revenue."
Sharon Gang, a spokeswoman for Williams, said the mayor does not view the concessions to the council as a defeat, but as a way to get the broader project on track. Cropp said she was open to putting the hotel at Ninth Street, as the mayor prefers, if it is financially feasible. "The mayor doesn't see this as a loss," Gang said. "He sees this as another step in the process to bring this project to fruition.
"He is pleased the council is going to approve the legislation that assures the quick redevelopment of the old convention center site," Gang said. "His only concern is that the council has put in an extra hurdle that requires him to come back to the council for [what to do with part of the site]."
Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6), chair of the council's economic development committee, said she is unsure what should go on the open portion of the old convention center site but thinks the compromise was needed to "preserve our options of whether we want a hotel there or a library."
"I'm anxious to get going on this project because we're losing money in not starting it," she said.
The roughly $500 million project at the old convention center site is estimated to open in 2011, according to the developers, Hines Interests LP of Houston and Archstone-Smith of Englewood, Colo.
Hines's plans call for putting mostly housing on the site, including 772 units of condominiums and apartments, some of which would be earmarked as affordable units. About 275,00 square feet of retail and 300,000 square feet of offices are expected to go on the site.